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Scoliosis Symptoms and Diagnosis

Since scoliosis usually isn’t painful, it can go undetected until there are obvious, visible signs that can include:

  • A curved spine that looks like an “S” or “C,” rather than a straight line down the back.
  • Tilted, uneven shoulders, with one shoulder blade that sticks out more than the other.
  • Prominence of the ribs on one side.
  • Uneven waistline.
  • One hip that is higher than the other.
  • Twisted (also known as oblique) pelvis.
  • Signs of an underlying spinal defect, including light-brown birthmarks (also known as café au lait spots), hairy patches, dimples and spinal masses on the skin.
  • Unequal distances between the arms and sides of the body when a child stands upright or bends forward.

Learn more about the types and causes of scoliosis.

Tests and Diagnosis

Left untreated, scoliosis can worsen. In addition to curving, the spine can begin to rotate, contributing to diminished lung capacity and heart problems. Early detection increases the likelihood that your child’s scoliosis can be managed without surgery.  

A physical exam is a common way to look for idiopathic scoliosis. During an exam, a health care provider might: 

  • Look for spinal deformities by asking your child to bend forward 90 degrees at the waist, with feet together, knees straight, and arms hanging free. Sometimes a tool called a scoliometer is used to measure spinal asymmetry.
  • Check to see if hips are level and shoulders are level while your child is standing upright. 
  • Look for limb-length discrepancies. 

Historically, scoliosis checks were performed routinely in schools by a school nurse. This is no longer the case. Your pediatrician should be evaluating your child’s back with a forward bend exam at every yearly well child check beginning at age 8 years. And continuing until they have finished growing.

Gillette Children’s offers comprehensive scoliosis evaluations, treatments and services for all ages—from infants to adults. At Gillette, you’ll work with leading pediatric experts in treating scoliosis.